It’s been lost in the shuffle, which is news in itself considering how excited the National Press Corps was about Paul Ryan and his budget last year, but our once upon a time most “courageous” politician, lauded and feted, his praises sung to the skies for starting a “serious” conversation about that horror of horrors, the DEFICIT!!!, presented a new budget this week.
The news was greeted with a collective yawn from pundits and journalists who last time out were predicting Ryan’s immediate apotheosis as the Republican Savior who’d take back the White House for its rightful GOP owners and make Barack Obama the Carteresque one-termer he deserved to be.
Within the ranks of the shrinking We’re Not As Crazy As Those Guys Wing of the GOP, Ryan’s budget was greeted with a collective thump of heads banging on desks.
Several things have gone wrong for the zombie-eyed granny-starver (Thanks again for that one, Mr Pierce) since he released his previous budget.
One is that the economy has been improving so the DEFICIT!!! isn’t quite so scary these days. It’s become the deficit and seems manageable and that’s just what the President has been doing, managing it. Granny-starving isn’t as imperative as it once was. Another thing that’s happened is that austerity, that is granny-starving of the degree required for Ryan’s budget to “balance,” is failing miserably in Europe. What do you know? Keynes might have been right.
But more devastating to the Cult of Ryan was that even while the Insiders were still fawning over him, voters recognized Ryan’s budget for what it was, a plan for ruthless granny-starving…and gramps-starving, and grandkids starving…and a “mercy killing” of Medicare in the cause of shoveling more money to the already filthy rich. It turned out that a way to sink a Republican in a Republican district was to tie Ryan’s budget to her ankle. Back home in Wisconsin, Ryan himself suddenly felt a whole lot less secure in his previously safe seat.
And in the year since, Republicans in general have grown less and less popular. Their candidates for President and the Tea Party crazies in the House have disgraced the Party, mainly by demonstrating how mean-spirited and bloody-minded the GOP has been for a long while now.
Ryan and his budget are integral to that meanness.
I said there was a cult of Paul Ryan among some Washington insiders. Ryan is a devotee of the Cult of Ayn Rand. He worships at the altar of her ego. Selfishness is the cardinal virtue of his religion. Charity is that religion’s deadliest sin. Traditionally, conservatives have argued that social welfare programs are wrong-headed because they encourage what they’re meant to help solve. They make the poor dependent on the labor and hard-earned wealth of others. In other words, the poor become like parasites. But to a Randian the poor and everybody who isn’t a Colossus of Wealth are parasites. Leeches and fleas. Bloodsuckers. Or in another word, thieves. And thieves must be put down and punished.
The question at the center of Atlas Shrugged, “Who is John Galt?” is a mask for the central tenet of Rand and Ryan’s cathechism, “Whoever isn’t John Galt is worthless scum!”
In a deft and detailed analysis of Ryan’s budget showing how intensive the granny-starving will have to be in order for Ryan’s budget to “balance,” Ezra Klein inexplicably suggests that granny-starving isn’t something Ryan really wants to do, he’s just forced into it by certain political and economic necessities created by the Republicans’ insistence on even greater tax cuts for the rich and their refusal to consider doing anything with the money allotted for Defense except increasing it.
Kevin Drum has replied with essentially a “Oh come off it, Ezra!”:
Ryan's budget didn't spring forth immaculately from the forehead of Zeus. It's pretty much the same as his 2011 budget. Which in turn is pretty much the same as his 2010 budget. Which in turn is just a nicely formatted version of everything he's been saying for the past decade.
I'm so tired of Paul Ryan I could scream. Every year we get a slightly different version of the same old thing, and every year we have to waste entire man-years of analysis in order to make the same exact points about it. And the biggest point is that his budget would force enormous, swinging cuts in virtually every domestic program, especially those for the poor. If this bothers Ryan, he's had plenty of time to revise his budget roadmap to address it.
But he hasn't. He knows perfectly well that his budget concentrates its cuts on the poorest Americans. It's been pointed out hundreds of times, after all. If he found that troublesome he'd change it. Since he hasn't, the only reasonable conclusion is that this is exactly what he intends.
I suspect Ezra just likes thinking the best of people. But there isn’t a whole lot of good to think about Ryan. As Kevin says, if shafting the poor, and the middle class while he’s at it, bothered him, it’d show in his revisions. But he keeps coming back with the same shaftings. The only thing that changes is the numbers he uses to show how much money can be saved by shafting people. It doesn’t matter if he likes doing it or doesn’t like it. He believes it’s the righteous thing to do. In his religion, shafting the poor is a commandment.
But there’s one more thing.
I’ve been putting “balance” inside quotation marks because Ryan’s budgets don’t balance. The numbers don’t add up. The only way he’s been able to claim any one of his budgets is “balanced” is by building economic miracles into it. At some point, if you read closely, you will find a line that says, “Here magic happens.”
Of course Ryan doesn’t want to admit he’s relying on magic. He has himself convinced it’s simply a matter of tweaking the numbers. He’s like a basement inventor who’s convinced he’ll have invented cold fusion if only he can make the equations work. It doesn’t occur to him that it’s not the design, it’s the designer.
In the year since Ryan was hailed for his courage and his seriousness, a lot of people who joined in the hailing have begun to realize what should have been obvious from the get-go.
Paul Ryan just isn’t that bright.
A good chunk of this post is adapted from my Twitter feed from a couple days ago, and I’m pretty proud of myself---I got to this before Paul Krugman did. But then he’s a lot busier than I am. Also more succinct:
Overall, the response seems muted, maybe out of embarrassment. But leaving aside the predictable right-wing cheerleaders, it looks as if the emperor’s nakedness is now common knowledge.
Updated Sunday morning with only mild astonishment:
Maybe I was too hopeful in thinking the “serious” people in Washington were figuring Ryan out. James Stewart has an op-ed in the New York Times in which, as James Kwak says, falls “into the trap of believing that Paul Ryan is something other than a charlatan and a political hack.”
Ryan makes no secret of what he’s up to, except when he’s directly in front of cameras and what he says might get back to the voters back home. But he’s stated it flat out in other places and it’s right there in his budget. I don’t know why they have such a hard time believing Ryan is the Randian he says he is and wants to do what he says he wants to do.
via Brad DeLong.